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Archive for the ‘Recipes’ Category

Being a long-term expat gives a person a unique perspective, as you well may imagine – an outside eye with insider access – and in the case of these bloggers, the ability to be ambassadors to the world at large.  It’s been a while since I focused on food myself, and I want to highlight to whoever may be reading, a review of some incredible blogs – AND – their very special qualities.  I’ve chosen and linked some specific posts to shed a light on the diversity of boutique dairies and cheeses, markets, spices, comfort foods, and out-of-the-way corners/villages/eateries that guidebooks would never even know to mention.  Enjoy!

Milk, Dairies, and Cheese

Israelis love their cheeses, eaten (much to my chagrin, actually) very fresh.  For fresh cheeses, however, they’re extraordinary.  A huge variety of cow, goat, and sheep cheeses are produced by the largest and smallest boutique dairies all over the country.  Baroness Tapuzina told us about her visit to the Ein Kamonim goat far recently.  Sarah Melamed of Food Bridge posted about a comparison between camel, cow, goat, and buffalo milk, oh my!  To add my recommendations on Israeli cheese, I adore the Markovitch Dairy – run by a sweet couple, on their own, with their goats, near Petach Tikvah – they make a cheese very similar to Camembert, with a blue center – during events they cater, they stuff big majoul dates with a softer goat cheese – to die for.  A bigger better-known artisanal cheese-maker is the Jacobs Farm – they make a hard cheese with pimento and caraway seed that is so incredibly different – it took me a while to like it, but I adore it now.

Markets and Places

Pita with zatar

My friend Liz, of Cafe Liz fame, is truly a market connoisseur.  Actually, most of these bloggers probably are, but I as know Liz well and we hang out in Tel Aviv quite a bit – she has been my personal ambassador to some gems.  Here, she tells us about Ramle, an out-of-the-way melting pot of a little town near the airport with an incredible history.  Here, a foray into the Levinsky Street market, undoubtedly the best place to buy spices in Tel Aviv – a bizarre 2-3 blocks of storefront if you’ve ever seen one.  And in a post I highly recommend, Where to Buy Food in Tel AvivLiz compared the prices of several basic food items at the shuk (market), and several commercial and organic stores around town – with very interesting findings for the consumer.

Sarah has a whole page devoted to shuks (markets), that you should really check out.  She’s written about Nazareth on a couple of occasions, somewhere most of us urban-folk would never venture.  The food scene is incredible there, and the New York Times recently featured it in an article, “Nazareth as an Eating Destination.”  A great pictorial is Spice Up Your Life in Nazareth, and a more complete anecdote is Nazareth Shuk: A Kaleidoscope for the Senses.  Another great post is by Miriam Kresh, the veteran blogger of Israeli Kitchen, also littered with fabulous photographs.  Miriam’s knowledge of the natural foods around us and the making of such basic (yet to us, complex) processes such as wine-making, soap-making, lotion-making, olive-pickling, and much more is astounding.

Comfort Food Around Us

Stuffed peppers

The new Jerusalemite among us is Ariella, of Ari Cooks.  A trained pâtissière, I love reading through her recipes.  A recent post of hers focuses on soups, Soups for Thought, and it was so so so good. So apt for the winter, so cold this year, making up for last year’s heat wave.  She links to several other soup recipes, so it’s an excellent resource.  Miriam has a great post on pickling olives at home, a local staple, olives are.  Sarah is hands down the kubbeh expert among us, and if you don’t know what these lovely semolina dumplings stuffed with meat are, do click her link.  Here is also Sarah’s excellent, beautiful, and brief journey through Israeli foods, including the ubiquitous falafel, foreigners so know us by.

I have skipped so much and focused on too few blogs — the amount of recipes, the innovation of this cooking, this east-meets-west, foreign-domestic, old-new, always fresh outlook displayed by the food bloggers of Israel is inspiring.  If you live here, I hope you choose to eat well and eat interestingly.  If you don’t live here, when you visit, make food a priority.  It’s so special and vibrant and fresh here.

Have a great week, all!  Here’s to getting through the winter!

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I was starving after yoga this morning (Chandra Yoga Studio – amazing teachers & most affordable I’ve found in TA), and stopped at Loveat for a muffin and a free coffee (I had reached my ten!).  In  most religions there is some sort of prayer or thanks for the food, acknowledging some higher power, hard work, and sometimes the people that labored in order to make said food.  During my Vipassana retreat, we were told that each moment was supposed to be (at least an attempt) at meditation – as we were silent 24/7, mealtimes were interesting.  You contemplate every bite.  You think about where the foods come from (I do this a ton anyway, as you know), and more specifically, who had a part in creating them.  Of course, there are the cooks who put things together, the kitchen being a chemistry lab of sorts, to make the raw ingredients into something more delicious or often, actually edible (eggs must be cooked, flour cannot be digested without being worked, etc).

But where does everything come from?

Today, as I ate this delicious bran-pecan-cinnamon muffin, I thought about breaking the recipe of this one food item down, and seeing what it took to create this yummy pastry.

So here’s an ingredient list from a simple cinnamon-pecan muffin recipe I dug up online (courtesy of About.com):

  • 1-1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans, lightly toasted
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil

Some words on agriculture

Agriculture is one of the most dangerous industries in the world.  Some US statistics: In the USA, an average of 516 workers die every year.  It’s also one of the most hazardous industries for young workers.  What does this mean?  Agriculture deaths accounted for 42% of deaths of young workers (17 and under) between 1992-2000, and more than half of these were children under 15 years old.  Over 1 million young people work on farms, their risk 4 times greater than in other work industries, with an average 27,000 injuries sustained every year.

Amazing that this is how we rely on one of the most important resources key to our survival.  These are US statistics, alone.  Goodness knows what it’s like in other countries.

Flour

Wheat harvest

Flour is one of the most important food products in the world, and most is made from wheat. About 20 billion bushels are grown during a year, and Canada, China, France, India, Russia, and the United States grow the most wheat.  Here is a great website that tells you about wheat-growing in brief.  There are four main varieties, some better for bread, others for pastries, and one for pastas, etc.  Dry, mild climates are best.  There are two harvests per year, as there is winter wheat and summer wheat.

After harvesting (big tractors and the like, see picture), the grain goes through a threshing process to separate the cereal grain from the inedible chaff.  Then it is taken to (usually huge) gristmills, where the wheat (or other grain) is ground by use of steel or cast iron rollers.  I imagine there is an intricate packaging process, and then there is worldwide distribution.  I can’t imagine the millions of people involved in bringing us just the flour that we use to bake bread and other baked items we depend upon (that we, in turn, built factories to outsource the production of which).  Because most like white bread, flours are bleached using chemical oxidizing elements.

Sugar

Sugarcane

Sugar is made from either sugarcane (70% of worldwide sugar production) or sugar beets (30%).  Brazil is the largest producer of sugar today, although more than 110 countries in the world grow sugarcane, and the EU and Ukraine are the largest exporters of sugar beets.  The cane is indigenous to Southeast Asia, with India being the earliest producer of sugar.  There are two stages to process the cane – first the milling (a long process), shredding, crushing, and collecting the juice – then cooking to extract the actual sugar.  Sometimes some bleaching occurs here.  The second part is the refining, cleaning and clarifying of the raw sugar with various processes (some chemical using acids), and a further bleaching. (Packaging, shipping, etc, etc, bla bla bla)

Baking Powder

Baking powder is a chemical agent used in baking, obviously, to make cakes and such rise without the fermentation that yeast produces.  It’s made up of (usually) sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and an inert ingredient like cornstarch.  Sodium Bicarbonate is produced in a lab, although it also is naturally occurring and can be mined.  The most common way to produce it is through the Solvay process, which is the reaction of calcium carbonate, sodium chloride, ammonia, and carbon dioxide in water.  Hmm.

Cinnamon

Cinnamon is a small evergreen tree native to Sri Lanka, and is now cultivated commercially all over South and Southeast Asia, the West Indies, Brazil, and parts of Africa.  The plant is grown for 3-4 years, then undergoes coppicing which means it’s cut low to encourage lots of little shoots to grow out of it.  The shoots are harvested, stripped of bark to get to the inner bark, the strips of which curl, then are immediately processed and dried carefully.  Timing apparently is really of the essence in this process.

Salt

The salt we eat is refined NaCl – Sodium Chloride.  It’s produced by drying seawater or by mining.  These are huge operations.  Salt used to be more precious than gold.

Pecans

Unripe pecans on tree

Pecan is a species of hickory, the word itself meaning “nut requiring a stone to crack” in Algonquin.  The trees are native to North America, and are one of the most recently cultivated crops in the world.  Even in American colonial times, the wild pecan was eaten only as a delicacy.  The US produces between 80-95% of the world’s pecans.   A pecan tree can live and produce edible fruit for more than 300 years.

Eggs

Usually produced by chickens, most sold are unfertilized (no roosters around), and hence don’t harm potential life.  That said, most egg-producing chickens (there are two breeds almost exclusively these days, those for eggs (layers) and those for eating (roasters), all native breeds almost overtaken).  These chickens live in terrible conditions, the minimum amount of room allowed (they never move), their beaks often broken to prevent them from hurting each other and themselves, disease runs rampant, and I can go on and on.  Free range eggs aren’t much better, when you look into it.

Milk

In the western world, cow’s milk is produced entirely industrially.  Huge farms, automated milking, hormones, antibiotics, the works.  The largest producers of milk are India, the USA, Germany, and Pakistan.  I hope that my milk comes locally – Israelis have a huge dairy industry compared to other countries of the same size, I think.  Then again, so much dairy used in junk food is powdered (“milk solids”)…and that could have come from anywhere.

Vegetable Oil

Lipids extracted from plants – today done chemically. The crude oil produced is not edible, and it must go through other chemical processes in order to create a type of fat we can actually consume.

Conclusion:

To make a muffin, my ingredients are grown or mined or chemically created and brought to me from potentially over a hundred different countries around the world.  It’s at least a couple dozen.  Hundreds of industrial refining processes are used, not to mention all of the packaging and shipping worldwide, on airplanes, ships, trucks, and probably even animal drawn (or human drawn) vehicles.  Other factories may have been involved in my home country to further cook or refine some ingredients.  Then the baker or bakery or industrial bakery bought these goods, and combined and cooked them to specification.  The process of bringing these elements together could have taken years for some of the ingredients.  Millions of people were involved.  Many, many of which were in grave danger and received very low pay for their labor.

It really makes you think.  Every time you bite into anything.  Anything.  You’re biting into the labor of millions.  Even if it’s a raw fruit.  Someone had to plant it, work the fields, pick the fruit, package, ship it, sell it.  My goodness.  For good or bad.  How divorced have we become from our food?  We eat blindly.  Absolutely blindly.  I cannot even find out where my rice (or most any other product) was grown.  My grocer usually doesn’t know where the produce came from.  It’s scary.

All that work.  Blood, sweat, tears.  Injury and death.  All for my overpriced morning muffin.

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Organic Disaster Defused -- Stuffed and Divine

The monster peppers I received today were sweet, not spicy.  I went ahead and stuffed them all.  Because of an embarrassing situation that has ensued (we’re out of gas — can you believe it — and we can’t figure out which gas company is ours — stupid, stupid), I had to make something 100% in the electric oven.  The approximate steps I took –

  • Sliced peppers vertically and de-seeded
  • Soaked a combination of quinoa, red lentils, and white rice in boiling water (from kettle) while I –
  • Chopped 5 medium tomatoes, 1 onion, 5 cloves of garlic, 1 handful of parsley
  • Drained the water from the rice mixture and added to the vegetable mixture
  • Drizzled olive oil, added salt, pepper, chili, oregano, and thyme
  • Stuffed all of the peppers, set them in a baking pan, drizzled with more olive oil, salt, pepper, ketchup, a couple dashes of soy sauce, and a cup of water.
  • Cover with foil, place in a 190 C (390 F) oven for around an hour (keep checking after 40 minutes), until the filling is fully cooked and the pepper so soft it’s practically falling apart.

Fantastic results.

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The overabundance of organic-ness combined with Valentine-monotonousness led to these. Home made chips.  Or fries. Or wedges.  Whatever you call them.

These small waxy fragile spuds needed to be cooked soon.  Cut them into strips, placed in a small metal oven pan casserole thing (I think it was a tray from a former toaster oven…amazing what we save).  Drizzled olive oil liberally.  I added salt, pepper, chili powder, ground coriander, tiny touch of cumin, sprinkle of sumac, and lots of sweet paprika. Tossed it all to coat.  Stuck ’em in a hot oven for about — can’t say — maybe 20 minutes, stirring some in the middle.  Finished them off under the broiler for a couple minutes to make up more crisp.  Now that I think of it, in the future I’d try doing the reverse.  Broil first to crisp the outside (in the manner of browning), and then letting the insides bake slowly.

They were lovely, though.  Take a closer look.

Eaten with some mayonnaise and a glass of Scotch in front of my laptop, catching up on American reruns.  Happy V-Day indeed.

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Pesto, pre frap

What happens when you can’t get through the “small” veg box? What if it happens week after week?

Wasteful nastiness, that’s what. And fruit flies. Lots and lots of bloody fruit flies.  So, you know the expression – when life hands you lemons…

Somehow, every Saturday morning I have woken up and unconsciously moved toward the fridge and fruit basket — and absentmindedly chose to cook — something.  Anything.  To prevent the rot and perhaps enjoy the organic expensive fruits of – someone’s – labor.

Week 1 – amazing really really ripe banana bread (an amalgam of 3 recipes found in 10 minutes online).

Week 2 – makeshift no-recipe apple and quince butter (really gorgeous – love quince and it was a good combo. Hadn’t made apple butter in years – not since I properly jarred it for thank you gifts. Cut up apples and quince, boiled in minimal water for quite a while – the quince needs it, blended the lot, added a cup or so sugar and a few dashes of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom.  Cooked until thick.  In reality, it’s much harder to do this – sieves, and the like).

Week 3 – 2 weeks worth of pasta sauce (20+ tomatoes, what else could you do? Have a bloody mary party? Actually, that’s not a bad idea.  And I’m really not partial to gazpacho).

Week 4 – imitation aloo gobi – for 10 (3 heads of cauliflower, umpteen potatoes, red peppers, onions, jerusalem artichoke – in like a ton of turmeric, cumin, coriander, sumac, chili, paprika, and luck. God have mercy).

Week 5 – pesto – what can you do? Fresh herbs that are so pretty and fragrant you want to cry! And they wilt in a day or two.  No matter what or how hard I try.  And the next week, another bunch arrives! I demolished this bouquet fresh and pretty with great results.  Huge bunch of basil, 5 or so cloves of garlic, 1 small onion, handful of chestnuts (this was the hail mary play – I would never have used them except I really wanted/needed a nut component – I’ve used pine nuts and would have loved to use walnut – luckily this sort of worked).

Here’s what my kitchen is perpetually looking like:

Organic nightmare in my kitchen

The vat of spaghetti sauce (I  would call it marinara or arrabiata, but was a completely improvised mess of tomato, other veg, and lots of spice):

Yesterday I roasted two huge eggplants that wouldn’t hold out much longer – ate the one, and just can’t squeeze the second down yet.  Hope it’ll last another day.

This week, I may have to take up pickling – I have 20 cucumbers not going anywhere, fast.

Horn of plenty, indeed.  I wonder if my provider would consider helping me out of the organic nightmare I’m stuck in and allow an every-second-week drop.  We just can’t eat fast enough…

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The gorgeousness that is sorrel

It looks like spinach but tastes NOTHING like it.  A sour, delicate leaf, perfect in soups and stews as it has a remarkable thickening quality while retaining its vibrant taste.  Spinach cannot compare.  I don’t know why the whole world isn’t cuckoo for sorrel.  In fact, I’m hoping to start a trend here.  People, if you haven’t tried it, take my word for it, you simply must.  Period.  With the scents that were wafting out of the kitchen, we knew we had one legendary meal in the making.

Today, after a rather frustrating morning of heavy work, I boarded the bus to Jerusalem, on a whim.  One of my favorite friends, the lovely queendeb, resides there on the border of Baka and Talpiot (although she only admits to Talpiot). We don’t get together as often as we should, and as two creative food-minded people, we decided on a cooking project.  I brought the sorrel and a bottle of Israeli-Champagne (GHW’s Gamla Brut).  In her quirky kosher kitchen (with her little brother in NYC on video-Skype the entire time), we proceeded in what felt like an adventurous cooking show.  Here’s what became of our evening:

  • olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 small celery root, chopped
  • 1 yam, chopped
  • 500 g chicken wings
  • 1 bunch sorrel, 1/2 chopped, 1/2 left whole
  • handful of cilantro stems, chopped
  • 3-4 small celery stalks with leaves, chopped
  • 1/2 white cabbage, cut into large in-tact wedges
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • zest of 1 lemon, 1/2 finely chopped, 1/2 in strips
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 tbs yellow mustard
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 shot Laphroaig Whisky
  • chipotle pepper to taste
  • pepper, garlic powder, chili, etc to taste
  1. In a large soup pot over high heat, drizzle olive oil, then brown the chicken wings.  Remove.
  2. Whisk together the mustard and soy sauce.
  3. With the fat of the chicken left behind, add the onion, garlic, celery root, and yams (in that order – waiting a minute between additions).  Cook at medium heat until sweating/softened.  Add mustard/soy sauce.
  4. Layer the chicken wings evenly over the vegetables.  Then sprinkle the chopped sorrel, chopped celery & celery leaves, and cilantro stems evenly over the chicken.
  5. Sprinkle chipotle pepper over the surface.
  6. Create a layer with the whole sorrel leaves spread flat.  Place the cabbage wedges over the sorrel evenly.
  7. Pour the whisky over the contents of the entire pot.  Allow to cook for a few minutes to let the alcohol evaporate.
  8. Sprinkle all the lemon zest, and pour lemon juice over the contents of the pot.
  9. Without stirring, slowly and carefully pour two glasses of water into the pot.
  10. Bring to a boil, reduce flame to lowest possible, cover and let simmer for 30-60 minutes.  Do not stir, but checking to ensure the bottom layer isn’t burning is fine.  Add pepper, spices, etc at the end, to taste.
  11. Serve over couscous or rice.

The resulting stew-y casserole was pure heaven.  Rich, smoky, sour, spiced.  The smoky qualities of both the Laphroaig and the chipotle pepper, combined with the tartness of the sorrel and the lemon components, were so complementary, it was wild!  All the veg fell apart, becoming almost caramel-like.  The sorrel indeed thickened things up, and oh me, oh my, the lemon zest was a joy in and of itself!  The layering method came about organically, in that we thought it would be interesting to allow the leafier veg to steam in the lovely saucy broth of the layers beneath it.  And what can I say of the chicken?  It fell off the bone.  So tender.  So moist.  So perfect.

The best part was, even though we didn’t know where we’d end up, we always knew we could do it.  Two savvy seasoned cooks with random well-loved ingredients having a ball.  The bubbly went great with the meal, and I’m so glad we drank it.  This meal was a shining beacon in the middle of a drab work week.  So, it’s a yes to letting loose!  A yes to drinking your best wine for no reason but to enjoy it in the here and now!  And a resounding yes to sorrel! To single malt scotches everywhere! To lemon rinds!  To chipotle! L’chaim, l’chaim to life!

And I’ve driven myself into the cheesy corner.  But it really felt like that.  A meal as a celebration.  Even with just a couple lonesome American-Israeli friends.  Especially because.

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Chocolata – a little glob of heaven found in the winter at almost every Israeli cafe. Pronounced “shokolatah” with soft European consonants, this is very different from your standard thin milk hot chocolate.  I’ve yet to attempt to make one at home, but it’s on the list.

Here’s the best description I can come up with for what it tastes like: hot chocolate pudding.  Yup.  Made with dark chocolate and the very best cream, of course, but the consistency is right up there with Bill Cosby’s wigglin variety.  Sometimes I’m tempted to see what would happen if I bought an individual made-for-a-school-lunch chocolate pudding and stuck it in the microwave.  Because it’s really like that.

The Israeli chocolata comes close on the chocolate-satisfaction scale to Parisian chocolat chaud (that I’m afraid, will always take the cake in that department).  But it’s the springy custardy consistency which makes it stand out from the average wintery chocolate beverages.  You need a spoon to “drink” it.

Here is a very simple recipe (untried) that I’m translating from an Israeli website.

For 2 servings

  • 100 g bitter chocolate
  • 2 TBS honey
  • 1 TBS sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 20 g butter
  • 1/3 cup sweet cream
  • ½ cup milk
  • 3 tsp Amaretto
  • 1 TBS Cognac
  • 2 pearls of pistachio praline (optional)

In a saucepan on a low heat mix all the ingredients except the Amaretto, the Cognac, and the chocolate.  Stir until all are well mixed, but do not bring to a boil.

When at a low boil, break the chocolate into small pieces and add to the mixture, stirring until entirely melted and combined.  Add the Amaretto and Cognac and stir until the mixture becomes thick.

Remove from heat, pour into two ceramic cups, and top with a decorative praline.

Let me how it turns out if you try it!

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